TU Law welcomes new faculty expert in Indian and health law

This summer, The University of Tulsa College of Law will welcome Aila Hoss as a new assistant professor of law. Hoss is currently a visiting assistant professor at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, where she leads courses on property, food and drug law, health policy and opioid epidemic policy. At TU Law, Hoss will focus her teaching on Indian law, legislation and property.

We wanted to get to know our new colleague better and introduce her to the TU community, so we conducted a short question-and-answer conversation with Hoss.

Indian law is an important element in your career. What drew you to this field?

I attended the University of Oregon School of Law, which has a nationally ranked environmental law program. While there, it became apparent to me that environmental issues resonated most with me when discussed in the context of population health. With this new awareness, I began to explore public health law as a potential career. I interned with a small obesity prevention nonprofit during my first summer of law school.

While working as an intern, I learned about health inequalities facing American Indian and Alaska Native populations. This led me to take classes in federal Indian law and tribal law. I was fortunate enough to be at a law school that offered these courses, but even more fortunate that tribal leaders, attorneys and judges from the area served as guest speakers.

What are some of the major projects you have worked on in Indian law?

Alongside tribal partners, I have served as a faculty member of a course focused on working effectively with tribal governments. This two-day course was available to state, federal and local agencies working on public health issues in Indian country. I have also developed a variety of resources on tribal emergency preparedness law to support tribes and their partners when navigating emerging issues, such as Zika, Ebola and natural disasters.

Professor Aila Hoss sitting on a bench in the summertimeWhat are you presently focusing on in this area?

I am currently collecting and analyzing state laws that support or require consultation or engagement with tribes. There are a variety of models to support tribal-state engagement but lots of opportunity for improvement. Analysis of state legal requirements may facilitate intergovernmental partnerships.

Thinking about Indian law broadly, what are some of the major currents today that warrant exploration by law students and professors?

Continued challenges to the Indian Child Welfare Act are something advocates, practitioners and scholars have been watching closely and need to continue to do. The law is essential for keeping connections between Indian children and their tribes, but these challenges are also a product of a larger movement to undermine tribal sovereignty and the unique status of tribes.

You also have expertise in health law. Would you tell us about some of your work in this area?

I practiced public health law as an attorney with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While with the CDC, I provided legal research support to tribal, state and local governments as they sought to improve public health within their communities. For example, a jurisdiction might have high rates of vaccine-preventable diseases and would reach out to us to learn about how laws could improve vaccination rates in the case of health care workers or school vaccination requirements.

Law, however, can also be a barrier to public health. An example would be laws that criminalize substance use disorder. Sometimes, it is not always clear what the impacts of a law are on health, which is why public health research is so important.

Are there any intersections between health and Indian law?

Absolutely! In fact, the tribal leaders who guest-lectured at my law school about their experiences promoting and protecting tribal sovereignty in their communities inspired my interest in the intersection of health law and Indian law.

Tribes pass and implement laws that impact public health. Federal laws also create complex jurisdictional structures between tribes, states and the federal government. This necessitates additional research and scholarship on how these federal laws impact tribal health outcomes.

You come to us highly recommended as an instructor. What is your approach to teaching? Why do you enjoy it?

My goal as an instructor is to make law more accessible and approachable for my students. One way I do that is through storytelling. Every law has a few stories to tell, whether its purpose, passage or unintended consequences. Few things are more engaging and memorable than a good story, which is why stories are such good teaching tools.

I love teaching because I love to share my energy, time and expertise with my students. I also enjoy getting to know my students, learn from them and support them in their goals.

What are you looking forward to in Tulsa and at TU Law? What new opportunities do you envision?

It has been a real privilege to be able to work with tribes and tribal-serving organizations in different parts of the country, but it is a dream come true to be able to teach Indian law in Indian Country and to be at a law school with so many native students.

In addition to being a highly accomplished researcher and professor, would you give us a glimpse of Aila Hoss the person?

I’m an Iranian American, and my family moved around a lot when I was growing up. My folks live now in Atlanta, so that city feels most like home. Southern Indiana also has a special place in my heart because my husband grew up there on a small farm.

My husband is also a lawyer. He practices criminal defense and family law. We met during the first semester of our 1L year at the University of Oregon, and we supported one another throughout law school, the bar exam and our legal careers. Today, we are the proud parents of a Sharpei pup named Neville.

We’re both really thrilled to be moving to Tulsa. The warmer weather will be great, and we are looking forward to exploring new areas for hiking. I love to cook and share Persian food, so I’m excited by the prospect of a longer growing season and harvesting my own vegetables for the dishes I prepare.